The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match

Titles by Juliana Gray

A Lady Never Lies

A Gentleman Never Tells

A Duke Never Yields

The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match

(novella)

The Princess in Hiding Romances

How To Tame Your Duke

How To Master Your Marquis

How To School Your Scoundrel

The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match

Juliana Gray

INTERMIX BOOKS, NEW YORK

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THE DUKE OF OLYMPIA MEETS HIS MATCH

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Juliana Gray.

Excerpt from
A Most Extraordinary Pursuit
copyright © 2016 by Juliana Gray.

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eBook ISBN: 9780698176478

PUBLISHING HISTORY

InterMix eBook edition / May 2016

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Day One

March 1893

SS
Majestic

At sea

At half past six o'clock in the evening, the White Star liner
Majestic
, four hours out of New York with a cargo of American heiresses, steamed past the tip of Long Island and into the open ocean.

His Grace, the Duke of Olympia, who happened to be crossing the threshold of the first-class saloon at that moment, felt the triumphant surge of the engines through the soles of his shoes and smiled. A casual observer––say, one of that multitude of well-bred faces turned hopefully toward the new arrival––might safely presume his smile was one of pleasure.

They would presume wrong.

“Is it quite necessary to accommodate so many Americans on board, Mr. Simmons?” he said to the first officer, by way of greeting.

“I am afraid so, Your Grace,” said the Mr. Simmons, who had excused himself from his companions and traveled across the length of the saloon at utmost speed to greet this particular passenger. “They have a great deal of money, you see, and a steamship of ten thousand gross tonnage is the very devil to supply and maintain. To say nothing of the cost of coal.”

His Grace cast an arch gaze over the assembly. A general impression of horsiness stole over him. “Can they not be stowed in steerage instead?”

“I'm afraid not, sir,” Mr. Simmons said earnestly. “Not when they've paid seventy-five dollars each for a stateroom.” He lowered his voice. “They do have a tendency to complain at ill-usage.”

An elegant clock ticked out the minutes in the center of the frieze above the doorway, but Olympia chose to slip a hand inside his snowy waistcoat and examine his pocket watch instead. He sighed deeply and said, “I suppose I shall have to talk with them.”

(As he might say,
fornicate publicly with them
.)

“My dear sir, I assure you, I have taken the utmost care in selecting your dining companions. I have seen to the matter
personally
.”

“You have, of course, accommodated those names from the list I forwarded to you three days ago?”

“Of course.”

The duke slipped his watch back inside his waistcoat and made a minute adjustment to the lapels of his tailcoat. His voice was soft. “And you have destroyed that list.”

“Yes, sir. Directly after I read it.”

An earnest chap, this Mr. Simmons. The Bureau had assured him that the
Majestic
's first officer could be relied upon for discretion and loyalty––they had enlisted him before, from time to time––and naturally the poor chap had no idea of the magnitude of the mission in which he was playing his little part.
A diplomatic matter,
the Bureau had told Mr. Simmons, and his keen brown eyes reflected an anxious gratitude at having been called to do his mite for Queen and country. His gaze traveled doggedly up Olympia's imperial six and a half feet to land at the ducal eyeballs, and his bony neck almost strained from its collar.

Olympia could only imagine Mr. Simmons's reaction, if he knew the truth. That this
little diplomatic matter
, in fact, took the form of a female agent for the French government, known to have purchased a first-class ticket for this particular passage, whose identity must be discovered before the papers in her possession could be delivered to her masters in Paris.

The duke smiled. “Good man. If you don't mind, then, I should like to––”

“Mr. Simmons! There you are.”

A woman's voice, flat-voweled and large-nosed, invaded the cozy masculine air between them like a whinny from a dyspeptic American farm horse.

Olympia turned his head and gazed down the sharp length of his nose to discover the source of the noise. He hadn't far to look. Its owner stood about four scant inches from his left elbow, broad of hip and black of hair, and her bosom thrust out from her chest in such a prominent manner that Olympia wondered whether she might not have inspired the ship's builders, when they were designing the prow.

As if sensing the scrutiny lurking behind the duke's nose, the lady turned, smiled, and fluttered a pair of insincere eyelashes. “Oh! I hope I haven't interrupted.”

Mr. Simmons coughed delicately. “Not at all, Mrs. Morrison. May I have the honor of presenting to you His Grace, the Duke of Olympia. Sir, Mrs. Stewart Morrison of New York City.”

Mrs. Morrison's eyelashes performed another maneuver, still more acrobatic than the first. “Good gracious! I had
no
idea. None at all! We are honored indeed, your lordship, to make your acquaintance.”

Olympia took her offered hand between his fingertips and endeavored not to wince. “Enchanted, Mrs. Morrison. The honor is all mine, I assure you.”

“How very kind, your lordship. I presume you are on your way home?”

“Indeed, Mrs. Morrison. I fear I have already tarried far too long.”

“How lucky you are. I have always felt the
greatest
affinity for England. I sometimes think of myself as really English, by
nature
. My friends all say so. They say, Laura, you were born in the
wrong country
. And it's true! I've always thought the United States so course and rough-mannered. Even as a child, I did. All my taste is for English things. English books, English furniture, English decoration . . .”

“How very flattering, Mrs. Morrison. Have you any particularly favorite corner of Albion?”
That I may be certain to avoid,
he added privately.

“Oh! Well, as far as that goes, I'm afraid I don't know much about Albania.”

“I mean England, Mrs. Morrison.”

“Ah. Yes. The truth is, your lordship, this is my first visit. But I'm sure I shall love every dear little blade of grass, every sweet little wayside flower––”

“Every charming patter of rain.”

“Indeed, indeed! You
do
understand me. I declare I'll
bless
the rain that falls upon my head, your lordship, just because it's an
English
rain.”

“We do maintain a large national reserve of sturdy umbrellas, however, should the repetition become tedious. Those mornings of endless drizzle, interrupted only by afternoons of incessant showers.”

She laughed and wagged her finger at his stiff white shirtfront. “Oh, I do
adore
the English sense of humor.”

“I rather suspected you would, Mrs. Morrison. I fear, however, I am keeping you from your purpose.”

“My purpose, your lordship?”

“You had, I understand, a question for my friend, Mr. Simmons.”

Mrs. Stewart Morrison turned back to the first officer in surprise. “Yes! So I did, I believe. Mr. Simmons, I'm afraid we're going to need another chair at dinner tonight.”

Mr. Simmons's face took on a shocked pallor. “Another chair, Mrs. Morrison?”

“Yes. My daughter's governess will be taking dinner in the saloon, instead of her stateroom, as we planned. My daughter wouldn't hear of it, you see. She has such a
warm heart
, my daughter.” This she addressed to Olympia. “Twenty years old, my daughter, and though my friends tell me she's the most
beautiful
girl in New York—which I put no stock in, Your Lordship, no stock at all, though I will concede she's a pretty girl, a
very pretty
girl––as I said, the most beautiful girl in New York, so my friends say, but for all that she's a dear, kind, loving girl, and she's always treated her friends the same, high and low. That's the sign of a
good heart
, Your Lordship, which as you know is the most important thing in the
world
.”

“Indeed,” said the duke. The scent of rat wafted past his nose.

“In any case. I understand we'll be sitting together tonight, at the captain's table. Isn't that charming? I'll be sure to introduce you to my daughter, Your Lordship, so you can see for yourself. About her beauty, I mean. I'm sure I heard you are a connoisseur of beauty.”

“What man is not?” said the duke.

A distant gong rattled the air.

“If you'll excuse me,” said Mr. Simmons, still pale, “I shall give the necessary instructions to the staff.” He bowed and bolted.

“Well! There's the dinner gong. I guess that means you shall have to take me in, Your Lordship.” Mrs. Morrison offered him a long gloved arm and a winning smile.

Olympia accepted the arm, as the price one paid for civilization. “With the greatest pleasure, Mrs. Morrison.”

***

Miss Ruby Morrison did not stare—of course she did not—but she was the kind of girl who could gather a great many details from a passing glance. “He's at least seven feet tall. Possibly eight. And his hair is quite white.”

“He is a tall man, to be sure, my dear,” said her companion. “But not ill-favored.”

“He's ancient.”


Ancient
is a monument of classical Athens, Ruby. Not a vigorous man of seventy years.”

“Seventy-four, Mama says. And you can't deny his hair is white.”

Under the guise of admiring the plasterwork surrounding the saloon's vast lantern skylight, Penelope snatched another glimpse at the Duke of Olympia. He stood near the entrance, speaking to Mrs. Morrison with the withered expression of a man who holds all British civilization upon his sturdy shoulders. She'd heard the stories about him, of course. That he was one of England's most powerful dukes; that he had the constant ear of the Queen herself. That he was immensely rich, that he had––over the decades––enjoyed any number of infamous mistresses, that he had sired at least one natural child from them. That he was a widower, a confirmed bachelor, and a man of impeccable prestige, despite his history of immoral dalliance. (A duke could pull off that sort of thing, of course.) But she hadn't expected him to be quite so . . . well,
handsome
wasn't the word for it, was it? As well might you call the Man of the Mountain handsome, or Genghis Khan. He was simply colossal. “White hair is the natural consequence of the passage of time,” she said, returning her attention to the purse-lipped Ruby. “And I rather think it suits him.”

“He's more than half a century older than I am. Mama can't possibly be serious. Besides, he's already rich. Why does he need a fortune from us? It's nonsense.”

“True, he doesn't need a fortune,” said Penelope, still gazing dukeward from the corner of her eye. “But he does need an heir, a proper heir of his own body. Both his sons died early, and the dukedom will pass to a grandnephew, whom nobody knows.”

At the words
heir of his own body
, Ruby looked as if she might be sick, right there atop the polished first-class floorboards. “I would rather
die
. Die, I tell you. That old man.”

“Nonsense. I imagine he knows his matrimonial business better than most gentlemen half his age. A certain discreet arrangement of the light is all that's required. Candles, not electricity. And certainly not gas. No, you're simply determined to dislike him, because of Robert. I think if you give him a fair chance––”

“He's nothing to Robert. Don't even
begin
to compare them.”

“Compare a stockbroker to a duke? I should say not.”

“Robert is the handsomest man in the world, and the dearest,
and
he adores me. While this . . . this . . .
duke
of yours”—she pronounced the word like an epithet––”no doubt recalls the Battle of Waterloo. What on earth would we talk about?”

Penelope paused. “Miss Austen, perhaps?”

“I expect he knew her
personally
.” Ruby tilted an obstinate chin at the Heaven from which Miss Austen watched over her tenderly, the patron saint of unmarried young ladies.

Well. Ruby had a fair point. The august Duke of Olympia
was
far too old for a glittering twenty-year-old American beauty like Miss Ruby Morrison. The very idea of a union between them struck Penelope as distinctly unwise, to say nothing of—well—my goodness, she wanted a word . . . distasteful. That was it.
Distasteful.
No, she couldn't blame Ruby for blanching so pristinely at the thought of married life with a man old enough to be her grandfather.

But, like the doomed Six Hundred, theirs was not to question why. Penelope had done that once––questioned why––and found herself delicately uninvited from the Washington Square mansion of her Schuyler cousins-by-marriage, her bags packed and her train ticket purchased, and two distant relations later she had landed here, under the thumb of Mrs. Stewart Morrison, her late husband's mother's second husband's second cousin, the end of the line. She had a roof over her head, and a decent clothing allowance, and a first-class berth on the RMS
Majestic
, bound for Liverpool, and having faced the prospect of no roof and no clothes and no berth at all––what was she fit for, after all, at her age? You couldn't start a profession at age fifty, at least not a legal one––she was now more than willing to ride obediently into the mouth of Hell, even if Mrs. Morrison had most assuredly blunder'd.

Another quasi-accidental glance across the room, where His Grace was offering Mrs. Morrison the ducal arm, looking rather like a Great Dane magnificently enduring the attentions of a vociferous Yorkshire terrier.

Yes. Most assuredly blunder'd.

“Good Lord. He's coming this way,” said Ruby.

“No great surprise. Your mother
did
arrange the seating.” With the skill of a master strategist, Penelope thought, to say nothing of a discreet bit of civil bribery.

“I can't endure it. They'll make me sit by him.”

“Do compose yourself, my dear. It's only dinner. And I assure you, His Grace is likely to prove the most interesting companion on the entire ship, if you can set aside your prejudices and simply enjoy his company.”

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